Blackhawks lineup changes surprise, raise questions after Game 3


Blackhawks lineup changes surprise, raise questions after Game 3

Coach Joel Quenneville hinted that there would be changes on Thursday night, giving his patented, “we’ll see” when asked about the lineup.

He wasn’t kidding, and the changes were surprising: Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen were out and Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom were in for Game 3 against the Anaheim Ducks. The game’s outcome wasn’t decided by the changes – please see that awful power play – but they certainly left one wondering why they were made.

Quenneville said he was looking for “fresh legs” when he put in Versteeg and Nordstrom, neither of whom had played since the first round against the Nashville Predators. It was an interesting turn of events following Game 2, a triple-overtime victory in Anaheim, given Quenneville rarely makes changes following a triumph. But there it was nonetheless.

“Steeger didn’t play for a long stretch and we wanted to get him back in there,” Quenneville said. “It was a tough day the other day with travel and we wanted to bring new guys in.”

[MORE: Ducks dominate third period again in postseason]

So did the changes have the desired effect?

“I thought we had a good start with that, good first period, energy,” he said. “The power play may have lost momentum. The second period they got it back and obviously scored a big one at the end.”

The changes did alter the lines; Andrew Shaw was moved to center the third line with Patrick Sharp and Versteeg, and Nordstrom was on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins.

Versteeg found out earlier Thursday he was playing in Game 3.

“The first two shifts it was like I was standing in the speedway,” said Versteeg, who played 13:31. “It was going pretty quick. Once the game progressed, I thought I settled in nicely. Obviously would have liked to tuck one away for the guys to help them out. All in all, I felt pretty good tonight.”

As we said, it’s surprising that Quenneville changed things after a victory. It was also strange to hear the “tired legs” reason. At Wednesday’s availability, Quenneville was asked about his top defensemen’s high minutes, and if he was concerned about the potential wear and tear to them.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“They just had 10 days off,” he said. “So I feel pretty good about it.”

Asked if Vermette and/or Teravainen were hurt, Quenneville said they were “fine.” Teravainen certainly seemed healthy on Thursday morning, when he participated in an optional skate and talked to the media following it. But is Vermette healthy? Maybe he is. But this is the postseason, when no one dares mention injuries.

We’ll find out more in the coming days. Will the Blackhawks go back to the lineup they had prior to Game 3? Quenneville said, “we’ll consider all our options.”

The lineup changes weren’t the reason why the Blackhawks lost on Thursday. But if both players are healthy, it also seems those lineup changes weren’t necessary.

Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch


Wake-up call? Brandon Saad 'surprised' about possibility of being a healthy scratch

Brandon Saad played a majority of last season on the first line, started this season on the second to change things up, got demoted to the fourth by the fifth game, and could find himself out of the lineup in the sixth.

Before the Blackhawks hit the ice for practice on Monday, the 25-year-old winger found a white jersey hanging in his stall. That's usually reserved for players who are injured — Andreas Martinsen (back) was the only other player wearing one — or players who are on the outside looking in, which appears to be Saad right now considering he was not part of the four-line rotation.

"I don't think anyone wants to be wearing white around here," he said. "But it is what it is and there's nothing you can do but keep trying to improve. It's their job to make the call to put the best team out there to win hockey games."

Known for being even-keeled through the ups and downs, Saad expressed disappointment about the possibility of being a healthy scratch on Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. He didn't exactly show that emotion following his demotion to the fourth line, perhaps out of respect to the players he was playing with by noting how it brings balance.

But he did on Monday, and it was the first time we've really seen some sort of emotion out of him.

"Everyone makes mistakes and things aren't always going to go your way but to be out of the lineup, a little surprised today," Saad said. "But it is what it is. ... No one wants to be out of the lineup. That's never fun regardless of who you are."

When asked to pinpoint what's gone wrong, Saad said he wasn't the right person to ask.

"I think you got to ask him that," he said, referring to Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff. "It's his calls. For me, you can talk pros and cons as much as you want but just trying to go out there and compete and win hockey games. We've won a few here, I know every game has gone to overtime so they've been close. Nothing was said to me about lineup change or anything like that. You just come in and you see your jersey and you go out there and you play."

So Quenneville was asked.

"Just expect more," he said. "That's the situation."

Is his mindset in the right place?

"I think he's fine," Quenneville said. "His mindset is what it is. Whether it's urgency or passion, coming up with loose pucks in those areas is going to be the difference."

The Blackhawks sending a message shouldn't only be directed at Saad. It also serves as a reminder to his teammates and is important to note for the younger guys about earning your ice time.

"I don't really know where the coaches are coming from so I'm not going to comment on that," Jonathan Toews said respectfully. "But [Saad] has been doing some good things and I think it's good for all of us to know what's going on there because if [Saad] can get his ice time taken away, then so can a lot of guys, myself included. So we all want to play well and have team success."

The Blackhawks need Saad to return to form quickly because he's crucial to their overall success. There's no debate about that. It's why the thought of Saad, who played in all 82 games last season, serving as the 13th forward is frustrating for everyone involved.

It hasn't been a problem in the past, but now it's becoming one because of the Blackhawks' aspirations of getting back to the playoffs and their dependence on their top players.

"I don’t think it’s an issue," Quenneville said. "We just expect more out of him."

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

Blackhawks make sports history with fifth straight overtime game to start season

The Blackhawks made sports history on Saturday after they appeared in their fifth straight overtime game to start the season.

No NHL team has done that since the league introduced a regular-season overtime period in 1983-84, per the Elias Sports Bureau. It also has never happened in the history of MLB, NBA or NFL, showing just how crazy this early season run has been for the Blackhawks, who have rallied from all five games and have come away with wins in three of them.

"We’ve had five games, every one of them have been extremely intense and the game’s been on the line from start to finish," coach Joel Quenneville said following a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues. "Our group’s been competitive this year, the guys have been working hard for one another. I don’t know how many games we’ve been down in the third period, and coming back to win is special."

The Blackhawks appeared in 17 overtime/shootout games last season and won seven of them. They are one of six teams this season that have yet to pick up a regulation win.

On a separate note, Saturday marked the eighth time in Blackhawks history that one player scored a tying goal in the third period and scored in overtime (Alex DeBrincat), according to the NHL's PR department. It's the second time it's happened this year for the Blackhawks, with Jonathan Toews the other on Oct. 6 against St. Louis.